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Roman Waher’s wood engravings for “Wines of South Africa”

The illustrations for Gordon Bagnall’s “Wines of South Africa” (published by the KWV in 1961 and re-issued in 1972) were taken from wood engravings made by Roman Waher.  The engravings, all 8 of them, was also available as limited numbered sets, individually signed, dated and titled by Waher. They depicted the history of Cape wine under the following titles:

Bringing the vine to the Cape

Van Riebeeck’s first wine

Groot Constantia

A Cape vineyard

Old drinking vessels

Ancient wine vessels

Shipping the wine

In the KWV cellars

There were only 250 sets produced which today makes them very scarce. The engravings measuring 330mm x 500mm came in a protective black paper sleeve. Shown below are images of set number 95.

Roman Waher was an Estonian who studied in Leipzig. Born in 1909, lived in South Africa from 1964 and passed away in 1975. He also taught graphic art at the Michaelis School of Art.

(Click on thumbnail to enlarge)




The notion of “dikvoet” wines.

“Dikvoet” is an Afrikaans term used to describe a particular older Cape wine style and its use has always fascinated me. Translated it means thick-foot and that is exactly what those wines were; thick, dense, full & heavy. Wine reporter Andrew Marais once described it as wine which had to be put through a sieve before it could be drunk. But we also know that many wines of this style have aged very well. Marais wrote in 1997 of a tasting he attended of Nederburg Cabernets ranging from 1962 – 1996. He cited the 64 and 74 as his top wines and quoted the analysis for the 1960’s Cabernets as follows: alcohol slightly below 13%, Acid < 5g, Sugar of 3g with a Ph of 3.6 to 3.7. Marais also alluded to a sweet nutty taste evident on the wines of the 60’s. It follows that the wines were fairly high in sugar and weak in acid which goes against the conventional wisdom that a low ph is needed for longevity. During the 80’s producers started to move toward lighter style wines, which Marais attributed among other things to new plant material and the introduction of new wood.

Marais, A. 1989. Dikvoetwyne al meer ‘onder bed gevee’. Die Burger. 17 June, P13.
Marais, A. 1991. Die gespierde rooie en sy makkers. Die Burger. 19 July, P4.
Marais, A. 1997. Wynfondament is rotsvas gele. Die Burger. 31 Oktober, P6.

KWV’s coffee table books

The KWV produced a striking series of coffee table books beginning in 1967 with the publication of The White Wines of South Africa by W. A. de Klerk. The author remarked that… “further titles are planned to cover red wines, sherries, dessert wines, etc. Each will be presented by an acknowledged specialist in his field”. The book is beautifully illustrated with sketches and water-colours by well-known artist Francois Krige. An Afrikaans edition of de Klerk’s book is also available, as are all the other titles in the series. The other books are Spirit of the Vine (D. Opperman, 1968), Wine Country (H. Merwe-Scholtz, 1970), Red Wine in South Africa (B. Biermann, 1971), Brandy in South Africa (A. Brink, 1972), Dessert Wine in South Africa (A. Brink, 1974), Wine & Wisdom, (Versfeld, et al, 1978) and Sherry in South Africa (G. Calpin, 1979). All are readily available on the second-hand book market and collectively make an appealing series.


Nederburg’s 1974 Auction Cabernet Sauvignon

Some time ago I was given 3 bottles of Nederburg Auction Cabernet Sauvignon from the 1970, ’72 and ’74 vintages. These wines were stored in a garage and the corks showed seepage over many warm summers. At home I stored the bottles upright but really had little hope that they would be any good.


Nederburg has always produced some big flavourful Cabernet’s befitting a warm climate. The ’74 opened recently had an interesting port-like character, by no means gone and gave a glimpse of what it once was; big, flavourful and dense. David Hughes wrote in his 300 Great South African Wines (1983) that the 1972 was “…big, powerful…” with the 1974 “…much along the same lines…”.

Wine Cellar (Cape Town) stocks a range of fine older vintages which can be found here:



JP Cloete’s Groot Constantia wine

J P Cloete was the last private owner of Groot Constantia before it became a Government farm in 1885. Cloete acquired the farm in 1824 by purchase from his parent’s estate and produced there 5 different kinds of natural sweet wine-

Red Constantia
White Constantia

Below are images of two objects that survived from JP Cloete’s time. The first two images are of a bottle of Pontac and the little sticker sitting above the label carries the date 1874. This bottle was offered on Ebay in 2014 by a French seller. The last image is of the Frontignac label which I was advised (also an Ebay item) came from a late 19th century label collection.

H.O. Taljaard




1938 Wynbereiding

In 1938 the Department of Agriculture and Forestry issued a 104-page pamphlet on the subject of “Wynbereiding” (Winemaking). Authored by Prof C. J Theron and C.J.G Niehaus, it was the first publication in South Africa to deal with the practical science of winemaking. The Department was very actively producing pamphlets on almost every aspect of agriculture, including wine titles on fortified wine, sherry, and vine growing all now extremely scarce.




Hans J David (KWV’s first brandy expert) is credited for creating the well-known KWV 10 Year brandy. The brandy was first blended by David on 8 Jan 1936 consisting predominantly of a 1926 Pure Vintage Liqueur Brandy.

A sample keg of this brandy was exported to “Hamilton Incorporation, New York” with the steamer SS Chincha. The image below is of the “Certificate of Origin” of the sample keg issued by the KWV on 9 March 1937.